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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, April 25, 2018

 
Novak Djokovic

Novak Djokovic suffered his first loss to Slovakian qualifier Martin Klizan in five meetings.

Photo credit: Barcelona Banc Sabadell Open @bcnopenbs

Seeking more match play, Novak Djokovic took a wild card into Barcelona.

Martin Klizan cut Djokovic's quest short.

Watch: US Open To Use Shot Clock

The Slovakian qualifier reeled off eight of the last 10 points sending Djokovic packing from his Barcelona opener, 6-2, 1-6, 6-3.




The 140th-ranked Klizan, who had dropped eight of nine prior sets vs. Djokovic, toppled the former No. 1 for the first time in five meetings.

"I feel I haven’t lived up to your expectations, not even my own," Djokovic said afterward. "It’s hard to deal with these types of games and defeats, I wasn’t playing at my best, only during the second set. I will try to continue and see where it takes me."

Djokovic, who reached the Monte-Carlo third round in his clay-court debut last week, played periods of erratic points in the opening set, dominated the second set then lost the plot with some surprising routine misses at crunch time.



A 2015 Barcelona semifinalist, Klizan will play 12th-seeded Spaniard Feliciano Lopez for a place in the quarterfinals.

The 12th-ranked Serbian's first Barcelona appearance in 12 years was cut short by some sloppy stretches and Klizan's sharp shot-making down the stretch.

Djokovic's departure opens up the top quarter of the draw even more for world No. 1 Rafael Nadal, who was on course for a potential quarterfinal showdown with the 12-time Grand Slam champion.

Fresh off his run to an 11th Monte-Carlo championship on Sunday, Nadal launches his bid for an 11th Barcelona crown on the court bearing his name today when he faces compatriot Roberto Carballes Baena.

Monte-Carlo finalist Kei Nishikori, who could have faced Nadal in the third round, retired from the tournament due to an apparent leg injury while facing a 3-6 deficit against Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.




Match play has resembled a trip to the lost and found for Djokovic, once one of the stingiest players in the sport now prone to some head-scratching errors on rally balls.

Surprisingly, Djokovic's trademark two-handed backhand failed him on occasion in the opening set.

Squandering a 40-15 lead, Djokovic pushed two-hander wide gifting the second break and a 4-1 lead to the lefthander.

Djokovic held for 2-5 then slammed down a ball in frustration over a sloppy start.

The 28-year-old Klizan cracked an ace out wide snatching the opening set in 32 minutes.

The former world No. 1 regrouped ripping a pair of aces to hold in the first game of the second set.

Playing with more energy and urgency, Djokovic earned his first break in the fourth game then rocketed another ace out wide holding at 15 for 4-1.

Producing more precise combinations and playing points with greater care, Djokovic drilled a return to break in the sixth game and reeled off nine straight points to snatch the set and level the match.

The 30-year-old Serbian served 94 percent and won 26 of 33 points played in an overwhelming second set. 

Each man took turns dominating for a set before dueling for much of the third.

Klizan clubbed his fourth ace holding at 15 for 2-1. Djokovic drove a forehand down the line setting up a drive forehand volley to answer.

At his best, Djokovic terrorizes second serve with his return game. Today, he missed several second-serve returns as Klizan sustained his edge.




Lapses of consistency and confidence have plagued Djokovic since his return from a "small medical intervention" on his right elbow in February. Djokovic veered into patches of tentative tennis at crunch time today.

A forehand error followed by a netted forehand drive volley put Djokovic in a double break point bind in the eighth game. Djokovic moved forward, but lacked committment to his approach blocking a meek forehand volley into mid court. Klizan swooped in and bolted a backhand pass down the line breaking for 5-3. 

A slick forehand drop shot brought the Slovak to triple match point as Djokovic, seeing the end in sight, barely moved for the ball. 

When Djokovic dragged a forehand wide, Klizan closed his first win over the former No. 1 in one hour, 38 minutes.


 

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